The 1500 metres at the Summer Olympics has been contested since the first edition of the multi-sport event. The men's 1500 m has been present on the Olympic athletics programme since 1896. The women's event was not introduced until over seventy years later, but it has been a permanent fixture since it was first held in 1972. It is the most prestigious 1500 m race at elite level. The competition format comprises three rounds: a heats stage, semi-finals, then a final typically between twelve athletes.
The Olympic records for the event are 3:32.07 minutes for men, set by Noah Ngeny in 2000, and 3:53.96 minutes for women, set by Paula Ivan in 1988. The 1500 metres world record has been broken several times at the Olympics: the men's record was beaten in 1900, 1936, and 1960, while the women's record was improved in 1972 (three times) and in 1980.
Only two athletes have defended the Olympic 1500 m title: Tatyana Kazankina became the first person to win two gold medals in the event in 1980 (repeating her 1976 win) and, soon after, Sebastian Coe became the first man to do so in 1984. No athlete of either sex has won more than two medals. Historically, athletes in this event have also had success in the 800 metres at the Olympics. Kelly Holmes was the last athlete to win both events at the same Olympics in 2004, but no male athlete has reached both middle-distance podiums since Sebastian Coe in 1984.
Great Britain is the most successful nation in the event, having won six gold medals and a total of fourteen. Kenya has the next highest number of gold medals, with five, while the United States has the next highest medal total with thirteen. The United States is the only nation to have swept the medals in the event, having done so in St. Louis in 1904, albeit in a final between seven Americans and two foreigners.
nb The German total includes teams both competing as Germany and the Unified Team of Germany, but not East or West Germany.
The 1906 Intercalated Games were held in Athens and at the time were officially recognised as part of the Olympic Games series, with the intention being to hold a games in Greece in two-year intervals between the internationally held Olympics. However, this plan never came to fruition and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) later decided not to recognise these games as part of the official Olympic series. Some sports historians continue to treat the results of these games as part of the Olympic canon.
At this event a men's 1500 m was held and the reigning 800 metres and 1500 m champion from the 1904 Olympics, James Lightbody, was the winner. Two 1908 Olympic participants, Britain's John McGough and Sweden's Kristian Hellström were the minor medalists.